The following is a translation of a round table discussion between some of Sega’s greatest developers of the early 1990s: Yu Suzuki, Yoichi Miyaji, Hiroyuki Takahashi, Masato Maegawa, and Koichi Nagata. This was published in the Oct. 8, 1993 issue of Famitsu and was the last in a seven-week series of features on Sega games.
Today we’re welcoming five game creators whose games have been getting a lot of attention recently. Exactly how passionate are they about game making? Don’t miss out on the words of the Mega Drive’s most devoted supporters!
Despite the appearance of some ambitious titles, there are many unoriginal games being released
Takahashi: I think that the Mega Drive’s strength is in arcade-like games. For the people who are eagerly waiting for such games, it’s great that there are titles like Silpheed, where one glance is enough to see that it’s amazing.
Miyaji: I’m really happy for the comments I’ve gotten from everybody. Silpheed is a title that we took on as a challenge during a period of transition. Our company policy is “We don’t make the same games that are being made elsewhere.” Now, when you look out across the whole world, there are truly an incredible number of unoriginal games. However, on the Mega Drive, there are games of a type you don’t often see, like Panic! (Switch) and Ecco the Dolphin. On top of that, there are games like Virtua Racing that are infused with the latest arcade technology, and also Shining Force II, which represents an evolved form of the RPG, and Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes, which is full of ingenious design elements. Based on these titles, I can feel that there are quite a few original games being released. Unfortunately, most people haven’t yet realized that. With there being so many of the same sorts of games out there, if people just gave the Mega Drive a glance, they’d think “The Mega Drive is really new!”
Nagata: One reason there are so many unoriginal games is the pressure to increase sales. It drives developers to choose the safest options. So they just make sequels to successful games, or just make the types of games that are currently popular, and in some bad cases they just re-use program code from previous games.
Suzuki: Isn’t that because they don’t have enough time or funds to do basic research? Although if they have a really big hit, they might get some more leeway. Of course, there’s the business aspect to it all, but since we’re making games for everyone to enjoy, we should make them while having a sense of playfulness ourselves. That way is absolutely better.
Making games that we want to play
Miyaji: I just mentioned Panic! and Ecco the Dolphin. A typical company would never approve unique games like those (laughs).
Nagata: Yeah, they would be stopped at the proposal stage (laughs).
Miyaji: That’s right (laughs). I can see that within Sega, they are trying out a lot of different ideas.
Maegawa: However—and this can be said for the whole industry—in terms of balance, I’d like to see more importance placed on doing foundational research. If you think about profits first, you end up with something that resembles a trade commodity rather than a game, and it loses its fun.
Suzuki: By not focusing on the commercial aspect, you can make a more distinctive game that is fun to play.
Maegawa: Right. As a creator, you have to make games that you yourself want to play. During the bug check process, if you feel “I’m so sick of this game,” then it’s all over (laughs).
Suzuki: Recently, there really have been a lot of mediocre games.
Miyaji: That’s true. We should do all we can at Sega.
Suzuki: If you have developers who are so passionate that they say things like “I don’t need a salary, just let me make games!” then I bet the games would get more interesting.
Maegawa: We have quite a few developers like that at Treasure. “I beg you, please let me make it!” (laughs).
Nagata: You can tell the kind of feeling with which the creator made the game by looking at the game itself. It clearly shows if they were thinking something like “I can’t wait to be done with this!”
Suzuki: It’s not about determination, but rather energy. Can you sustain that high energy level to the end? If you can keep your spirit up for one or two years, you can make something great.
Takahashi: Oh yeah? Actually, I get bored pretty quickly…
Maegawa: In that case, you have to finish it within three months (laughs).
Miyaji: At Game Arts, when we make a game, we want to make something that has a unified concept—a good sense of story, or a strong backbone, so to speak. We don’t just end with a mere game. For example, if we make a game about the Warring States Period of Japan and someone who knows a lot about that history plays it, we want them to be impressed by how deep we went. Even with Lunar: The Silver Star, we went so far as to create parts of the game’s world view that weren’t included in the game. The genre doesn’t matter. It’s vital to first create a foundation of a good story and world view and then build the perspective of the game on top of that. Silpheed has a bit of a cinematic feel to it, right? Your typical shooting game won’t go that far.
Takahashi: It’s fastidiously crafted.
Miyaji: I want to be fastidious. I want to share with today’s children the emotions that I felt long ago watching the Ultra Hawk take off on the TV show Ultraseven. That’s all.
Suzuki: That’s right. We really do have to be obsessive with what we’re doing.
Maegawa: The game itself doesn’t matter. Since we’re going to the effort of making it, we should try to draw forth its personality as much as possible.
Suzuki: It’s like, “Our dumplings are different from other restaurants’! Give them a try and you’ll see!” (laughs).
Takahashi: That’s exactly how the game industry can be revitalized.
Miyaji: From that perspective, the environment of the Mega Drive is one where we still have freedom to do things the way we want.
Maegawa: There are a lot of games that really stand out.
Takahashi: I’m of the Nagashima generation [referring to baseball legend Shigeo Nagashima]. Of course, Triple Crown winner Sadaharu Oh is also amazing, but there’s just something about Nagashima that I like more. Nagashima doesn’t give the impression of a model player, but he always comes through when it matters the most. It’s like he’s hiding something. The Mega Drive has something like that about it. It’s the feeling of not raising your hand in class even though you know the right answer.
Suzuki: That’s really cool.
We have to become the driving force
Miyaji: I think it’s good that there are a variety of markets out there. When I see something new, I also feel like I want to play something more traditional, too. It’s like conservatism and reformism. I wonder if there’s some connection there.
Nagata: It’s important to do things a bit crazily and unexpected, whatever you’re told.
Suzuki: Sometimes it’s fun to just see what crazy ideas come out. In America, that’s all there is. There are games that are the embodiment of ‘high risk, high return,’ trying for the chance that one becomes a hit (laughs).
Takahashi: But that’s really true.
Suzuki: Well, there are some low-risk games that achieve success, too. But generally, if you avoid risk too much then you lose the chance to be impactful. Basically, new things usually come out of America. But I think that’s going to be changing. The time for studying is over, and now we have to become the driving force. Anyhow, something that feels powerful is best. I love power and energy. Although those words don’t really give off a feeling of intelligence (laughs).
Miyaji: I understand that. Silpheed is a very orthodox game—we just changed the view perspective a bit. But the positive response has been even greater than we hoped. It turns out a lot of people desired this kind of new shooting game.
Nagata: Until recently, even developers were avoiding shooting games. Then, Silpheed came out, and everyone realized that there was this other, fresh way to approach the genre. It really is important to have a clear goal.
Miyaji: It’s very stimulating when you encounter something powerful. It can be a movie or anything. Although games are the most stimulating for me.
Suzuki: Even some very strange things can be good stimulation. It might be some random person you meet, or the impact of going to Kabukicho.
Miyaji: This makes me think of SimCity. I got curious about how Will Wright came up with the idea for the game, and I found out that it was when he was flying in an airplane and looked down at the buildings on the ground. We Japanese hardly ever fly on airplanes, but for Americans, it’s like riding on the bus.
Nagata: We can’t overlook our emotions—for everything. We have to look sensitively at things and feel “this is beautiful” or “this is interesting.” It’s no good to only see with a cold eye.
Miyaji: A long time ago, racing games only had overhead views. I wonder if the 3D perspective came about when someone saw video of the driver seat view and thought how cool it looked.
You have to make games with great care to draw forth their most subtle points of interest
Nagata: For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a driving game that’s more grounded in reality. So I’m really enjoying my current work [as director of the Mega Drive port of Virtua Racing].
Takahashi: I heard from Mr. Suzuki before about how incredibly detailed Virtua Racing is. It goes so far as to change the way the tires grip as they get worn down.
Suzuki: That’s a matter of fact for any normal car. The tires on the NSX get worn down after just 5000 km…! (laughs)
Nagata: In doing the port, I had to thoroughly study Mr. Suzuki’s original arcade program code. I was incredibly surprised at how far he went with everything. It was a good lesson for me.
Suzuki: No, it’s nothing amazing like that. To be very honest, I almost never play games. So whenever I was invited by someone to play a racing game, I absolutely always lost (laughs). But it made me think, “If this were a real car, that wouldn’t have happened. If the car in the game were more realistic, I would definitely win” (laughs). That’s the reason why I wanted to make a game with normal cars.
Miyaji: So you’re striving to create the real thing. At Game Arts, we’ve released a mahjong game called Gambler Jiko Chuushinha. If it were a normal mahjong game, it’d be incredibly easy to make. You could just make it so that, from the beginning, the computer is just one tile away from winning, and after a certain number of turns it automatically wins. If you make the game that way, it’d just take two or three months. However, for Gambler, we didn’t do that because it’s just not interesting. Since we were going to the effort of making a mahjong game, we wanted to make something that would be fun to watch. If we were going to all that trouble, it would be more fun to make a simulation than to just use a cheating system like that. So we changed our design plan, and then it took a year and a half before we were finished (laughs).
Suzuki: You really have to make games with a lot of care. Otherwise, that’s impossible.
Miyaji: That’s right. Without care, the subtle details of the real thing will be lost.
Maegawa: It’s difficult for the developer to pass that kind of feeling along to the player, but by playing the game I think they get this sense that something is different.
Suzuki: I think they realize when they compare it with other games.
Takahashi: Speaking of developers’ feelings, when I’m writing the game story, there are times when I realize, “I think I want to cry here.” So I’ll be writing the story while falling apart in tears.
All: (big laughter)
Takahashi: That’s how I write. I get teary-eyed.
Nagata: You’re really putting your feelings into it. That’s the absolute best situation for a creator to be in.
Takahashi: This time, I was thinking that if the story advances like this, then it should end like this, and I ended up re-doing the ending three times. Oh, and there’s a secret mode in Shining Force II which I can’t say too much about, but once you beat the game, you can select how smart the enemies are from four different levels. One of those is labeled as “heinous” [Ouch! in the English version].
Passionate creators will live on
Takahashi: Virtua Racing is really cool, isn’t it?
Suzuki: To shift the subject to the arcade, our next game is going to really knock your socks off (laughs). It’s a fighting game. Trust me, it’s going to be amazing, so make sure you check it out. Personally, I don’t like martial arts at all, but for the development, I watched over 70 martial arts videos. I played them frame-by-frame and measured things like the angular velocity of Bruce Lee’s punch, and it turns out his back fist is faster than Jackie Chan’s.
Miyaji: You’re really into analyzing things.
Suzuki: This thing called ‘sense’ can be imitated, right? So to really be competitive, it’s important to combine together an understanding of technology with this sense, and with the ability to coordinate everything well.
Miyaji: So the key word is ‘fastidious.’ In the end, only games that make an impact will stand the test of time.
Maegawa: A game has to be something where the player can enjoy interacting with the computer. With the next generation of game hardware, we’re going to see incredible graphics moving on the screen. But even then, if the game itself isn’t fun, it doesn’t matter. We might look at it and think it’s amazing, though.
Nagata: The upcoming CPUs will have more bits, and the storage capacity will increase, and that means we really have to put our full strength into making games…
Miyaji: Developers won’t be able to hide. With old hardware, the number of pixels and colors was so low that it was possible to cheat. But as hardware capabilities grow, graphics really have to be great, or else.
Nagata: Even with that, the games of creators who are passionate and full of energy will live on, right?
Miyaji: I think there will be a weeding-out process.
Suzuki: To go back to the beginning of the discussion, while it might not be true for everything, there are quite a few Sega products that I think everyone should take a look at. Hopefully they’re not just flukes (laughs).
Takahashi: Yeah, I really want people to give them a chance. If they do, I’m certain they’ll realize there’s this whole different world out there.
Miyaji: I hope they can see the kind of care with which we’re making games.
Maegawa: The Mega Drive’s CPU is very easy to use and it’s fast. That’s why we could realize things such as the smooth, multi-jointed movement in Gunstar Heroes. That movement is not possible on machines that are weak at calculations. It’s also possible to create elaborate productions with the excellent sprite capabilities of the Mega Drive. The number of colors and background planes—these can be managed according to your skill. If you look at Treasure’s titles, you’ll understand. To all of the Famitsu readers that don’t have a Mega Drive, please take this opportunity to try it out.